A Tale of One House : A Memoir

My blockbuster tale from Amble, Northumberland of doomed love - loss - regret - domestic and legal drama, set against a backdrop of construction work, colossal family treachery, betrayal and death - it's all there.


1. The Salt Pans



On a beautiful sunny day in March 1973, my husband, Charlie Gordon left the RAF, and we returned with two young daughters to his home town of Amble, a small fishing port on the Northumberland coast dominated by a large caravan site. The sun would soon go behind the gathering storm clouds.

His parents owned the Salt Pans - a row of six unmodernised Victorian terraced houses on the edge of the Links leading down to the sea. They had just sold 3, 4, and 5 as holiday homes and given us no.6 (not the Deeds) a one-up, one-down, with lean-to on the front housing, stone sink with cold water tap and a lavatory. No mains gas - cooking with gas was calor gas. Low pressure water supply which meant, when we did have a bathroom it took so long for the bath to fill the water was cold. Septic tank sewage which had to be 'unblocked' from time to time, to stop backflow to the house.  This had to be done at high tide -  using a 'chip shop' strainer and chimney sweep rods. Main outfit for this sparkling engagement: denim dungarees; leather builders boots; plastic orange apron with 'Guinness is good for you' on it; pink marigold washing up gloves, and the compulsory, oh so lovely 1940's gas mask - what a sight for the seagulls. I would not have looked out of place at Sellafield........The heating was coal fire. No phone line - I had that put in. It took over a month, telegraph poles had to be erected across the Links to run the wire from the main road.

The parents said, ''Do the house up, add an extension and it will be a lovely place for you and the children''.  I still hear those fateful words today. What should have been an idyllic home turned into a nightmare, the end of the marriage and a traumatic and protracted divorce 1980 - 1996. 16 years must be a record.

To the side of the house was the eroding sea wall. First, we had to brick-up the holes in the wall to stop us falling into the North sea. This involved lowering buckets of bricks and cement over the wall onto the shore, and working against the tide.....  Now we start work on the house, there was no money for a builder - so it was DIY. My outfit for the building work: short length taffeta evening dress in various colours - with stole if cool breeze coming of sea; leather builders boots and cloves, diamond tiara, necklace, earrings and loads of Chanel no 5. The back of the house had no windows. We have to put the living room and bedroom windows in.  The council would not give permission for a porch ?   Then we built the extension onto the front;  bedroom, bathroom, dining room and kitchen. All the bricks and stone were reclamation and had to have the old cement chipped off them. We had a  cement mixer, the recipe was: 1 bag of cement + 3 of sand + a dash of lime - mix with water to a smooth consistency - keep wet.  I did the inner brick work, husband outer stone work. We lived in a caravan the parents had on the property for four months while we did the building. And got to use the old communal lavatory set between the middle of the houses.  The bricks and mortar of that house are doused in my blood, sweat, tears and Chanel no 5.  When the work was finished so was the money, my parents paid for all the internal work, plus the fixtures and fittings.

                                               The Feud -  Monster In Law

The husbands parents lived at no.1. His mother, Peggy Gordon, was a very unpleasant woman - the original 'mother-in-law from hell' not happy unless she was making trouble, and thought nothing of going through your handbag. Reminded me of Ena Sharples from Coronation Street, minus the hairnet. She dealt in antiques and had a shop in the town. His father, Charlie Gordon senior, had to do as he was told. We had been in the house about a year, when husband, Charlie, had a dispute with his mother. He was doing a house clearance for her and something went missing - she had him arrested, he was taken to the local police station for questioning, and released without charge. 

We then received a letter from the parents solicitor, Hylton Young, giving us a months notice to leave the house.  We took legal advice, which was, ''To stay put and wait till they die''. The parents then started a campaign of harassment, more letters from their solicitor, Hylton Young, one telling me, ''To take down the washing line.'' Another, telling us ''Every time we step outside the front door, we are on their property'' - how are we suppose to get in and out ? fly ?  They locked one side of the access gate so you could only go in and out on foot, you had to leave the car on the Links.  There were running battles between father and son - Marquess of Queensberry Rules did not apply.  Northumbria police were never away from the Salt Pans - the police station should have move down there.  On Guy Faukes Night we light a bonfire to the side of the house. Next thing we know, the police are down telling us to put it out, the parents had complained it was on their property - here we go again - they were very territorial. It was just none stop with them, the list is endless.    The house was in legal dispute, and they wasted an estate agents time, sending him down to tell me they are selling the house ?

My lovely friend and neighbour, Sheila Stephenson, who with husband, Roy, and their son Michael, had the holiday home next door, no.5  and still have. Said to me, ''It's like something from a Catherine Cookson novel. We are only here at the weekends, you have to live with this all the time. Get yourself out of here with the doctor''. I could have got out of this mess with my doctor John Quarrie. He came to Amble in 1974, taking over the practice of Doctor Robertson who was retiring. John, lived in Warkworth with his wife - also a doctor- and their two children who were the same age as mine. From the start he became emotionally involved with me.  He separated from his wife and they divorced after three years.  He left Amble in 1978 for London and ask me to go with him.  I did not want to ruin his career. Then the engineers came, and I threw all that away too.   As John said, ''You are good at throwing things away''.  

                                         Considerate  Construction 1978 - 1980.

April 1978. Doctor John Quarrie leaves Amble under a cloud. In May, the construction workers arrive under the sun, the Salt Pans are being connected to the towns main sewage system, which is being upgraded.  Now I will not have holidaymakers and day trippers coming up from the shore, knocking on the front door, to complain about the raw sewage on the beach.  And the low pressure water supply to the property is going to be increased.

Back then, there was no communication no information given, no PR meetings etc , and the H&S act 1974 nowhere to be seen.  A man from Northumbrian Water called at the house, asked if I wanted to be connected, I said, 'Yes', signed the form, and that was it. The construction firm Volker Stevin - then Harbour & General of Gateshead - turned three years of my life into a SAS assault course, the Amble Links into The 8th Wonder of the World.  At one point, the only access to the house from the main road was through the nearby cemetery, climbing over the wall - not easy with bags of shopping and a bike. 'Safety First' was not Volker Stevin's motto.  I had done basic military training in the WRAF so was able to survive until, one evening, on my way home from visiting a friend I tripped and fell into their deep sewage trench on the Links, injuring myself and could not get out, sand and rubble rained in on me - I can tell you it was very frightening. Thankfully, it was summer, passing holidaymakers to the caravan site heard my shouts - got me out and home.  I tried to report the accident to Volker Stevin. It was impossible. The sexism and male chauvinism was appalling. All I got was raucous laughing, wolf whistling, and shouts of: ''We'll get you safely home from the pub next time Pet''.....hic.....burp. They were a theodolite short of the perpendicular axis. In the middle of all this engineering chaos they have to lower my phone wire for a crane - phone stops working - no mobiles then. When I complained to the engineer in charge of the work, he just walk away - not very civil.   I thought the work could not get any worse - wrong -  they start blasting on the seabed for the outlet pipes from the pumping station at the harbour.  This took place over several days - between 5 and 6 pm - tea time - not far out to sea from my house.  The blast, blew the calor gas jets out on the cooker, shook the house and the eroding seawall so violently, I thought we would end up in a very large heap on the shore. Could have been made into a musical - on one evening of blasting, The Bee Gees hit song,  Stayin' Alive was playing on the radio !    

Summer 1980. The final 'finale'. The water supply to the Salt Pans had to be turned off for the new  pipes to be installed - now we will not have to wait ten hours for the bath to fill. And we are being connected to the main sewage system too - the wonders of modern sanitation !Northumbrian Water provided a water tank, which they had to park on the Links, because the parents would not allow them to bring the tank onto their property.... So began the daily trek onto the Links to fetch water, and I had to start using the launderette at the harbour again.  This routine had to continue for sometime after the water had been turned back on, because it is now full of sand !  When the work was finished at the Salt Pans, Northumbria Water/Volker Stevin decided to join in the feud - Lord knows why.  The mother - the father died during the work - got the men to lock the access gates together. Now, the only way in or out is to squeeze through the narrow gap, between the gate post and the dunes or across the shore at low tide. It took me three days going back and forth to the firms office at the harbour, before the site manager got the men to open the gates.  And I left Amble.   Today, with the old knee injury from falling into the sewage trench I have difficulty getting to the pub !......   I loved Amble - still do. I never wanted to uproot and leave all my friends, but I  had to get away from the bad situation at the Saltpans, and the eldest daughter had just been diagnosed with diabetes. I was going to rent a house in the town, until I found out she would be in the same class as John Quarrie's daughter, Rachel, when they started at Coquet High School that September. After what had happened with him - breaking his hippocratic oath -  I had no choice but to leave Amble.  

The Salt Pans should have been demolished in the early 60's, when Amble Urban Council placed a 'compulsory purchase order' on the property, just after Charlie and Peggy Gordon had bought it. Unfortunately, their solicitor, Hylton Young of Carse and Goodger, who would buy his antiques for Peggy Gordon at a knock down price, won the court case for them. And the rest is horrible history.  The case was reported in the Northumberland Gazette, with photo of Charlie and Peggy Gordon outside the court house.  That ended up on a dart board - the newspaper cutting not the court house.......

                                        The Traumatic Divorce and The Daughter

At the time of the divorce, nothing could be done with the house, it was still in legal dispute with the mother - the father having died in 79. So my property settlement had to be 'laid aside' till she died.  She died in 89 leaving the house to my now, ex-husbands brother, Reg. I had never meet him, he'd had no contact with his parents for years, he saw his fathers obituary in The Journal newspaper and came calling on his mother. I think that should be crawling. Ex- husband contests the Will and lost. Told me, ''I did not get the bloody house, and your not getting any bloody money'' - he never forgave me for leaving him, and he was determined I was not going to get my property settlement. So, I did not believe him or trust him. I wrote to his solicitor Andrew Garside and his mothers Hylton Young, both told me the same - the court had given the house to the brother.  I thought that was the end, no, worse, far worse was to came.  At this point, and all agree, I should have burnt the house to the ground. I now know my vengeful ex-husband had the Deeds to the house a few weeks later. I would have been arrested but could not be prosecuted for burning my own property down. And he would not have got my money. I would then, be the proud owner of, half a burnt-out plot in a prime location.....

Summer1991. The house is finally sold, ex husband goes to live with his girlfriend Dorothy Swardy in her council house - they meet eight years after I had left and divorced him. He spent the first two years blackmailing me, trying to get me to go back to him, threatening to stop the maintenance. He was made redundant in 1982, and said he was not going to work again to pay  maintenance for his daughters. And he never did.  93, they marry, his daughters are not invited to the wedding - I wonder why ?  He dies suddenly in 95. The daughters go up to Amble for the funeral.  His widow is now ill, and they had moved into a council bungalow. The house is up for sale. Where did the money come from to buy this house ? It then transpires, that,  back in 91 their father made an Appeal and the court awarded him the house - half of which was mine. He then sold it to Peter Sutherland and bought the council house. His solicitor Andrew Garside- who later went on to be the Coroner for Berwick- should have told me the house was being sold. The eldest daughter Catherine Gordon knew all this, she knew her father had got the house and sold it - she was staying with him at the Salt Pans the summer, he sold the house to Peter Sutherland, she saw and spoke to him when he called to arrange the sale. Catherine Gordon lived with me for four years and said nothing. Her father bought her silence, telling her, he would give her some of the money if she did not tell me. He never did. You would have thought her father not inviting her to his wedding, might have told her, he had no intention of giving her 'some of the money'. I should have removed this treacherous daughter from my life at this point but, for the sake of my baby granddaughter  who was only three months, and I had put my life on hold  to look after her fulltime, I decided to  'Let It Go' and continue contact. Big Mistake - she just carried on lying and cheating her way through my life - history repeating it's self.  I have no contact with her now or my grandchildren. This daughter is now dead to me.

                                          The Mysterious Death of Charlie Gordon

In late October 1995,  Charlie Gordon was found unconscious, with a head injury in a lay-by outside Amble by council workmen.  They called an ambulance but not the police - why not ?  He was taken to Wansbeck hospital in Ashington,  where he died a few days later, aged 55. It was a sudden, unexpected death and by law, the police have to be involved and the coroner informed. The law was broken by the hospital doctor who signed the death certificate and the family's solicitor, Hylton Young. It was all covered up and swept under the carpet because Charlie Gordon's widow was ill.

A few years later, his brother Francis Gordon, was found dead in his house in Amble, a passing neighbour noticed he had been lying in the same position on the settee for a few days and called the police.  And there was an Inquest.    I contacted the Coroner's office in Berwick, to ask why there was no Inquest for Charlie Gordon - I was told there should have been one  ?  Hylton Young has a lot to answer for.

                                   Newcastle Court Ordeal - My Anger and Fury and Trauma.

November 1995. Now I try to get the money for my house. I instruct a solicitor, a 'stop' is put on the sale of the council house.  The following year I have to go up to Newcastle for the Hearing. It was just a kangaroo court, absolutely horrendous. I will never recover from it - no woman could. My vengeful ex- husband  deliberately cheated me out of my property settlement, when he sold the marital home to Peter Sutherland in 1991.  His solicitor should have told me the house was being sold and now I'm being victimized because his widow died a few weeks before the Hearing - the villain in the piece for trying to get what is rightfully and legally mine. When the Judge came into the court you could see straight away, he was not 'with me', he just glared at me. I felt I was on trail for murder, all that was missing was the black silk square on his head.  It had all been decided in his chambers were, with the oppositions barrister, instructed by their solicitor, none other than Hylton Young of Carse and Goodger in Amble  they intentionally disregarded the courts legal obligations.   At the end of this living nightmare he said to me:

''You should have done something about the money at the time ( I DID ) and you are not entitled to any now. There is to be no Appeal and no more court case involving the Gordon's''. ?

I'm writing with anger and fury. The whole thing was a stitch up.  This nasty, psychopathic Judge gave a personal judgement not a legal one. He knew very well, ''I did do something about the money at the time,'' It was in my Affidavit, and he had the letters from the solicitors, telling me the court had given the house to the brother.  My barrister was useless. Just sat there like a dummy, he did not speak for me once.   Why would he do that ?  He was not going to make waves knowing I was the victim of a stitch up.  He was just there for the free trip to Newcastle, staying in a plush hotel with all the fine wining and dining, and of course, the very large fee - all courtesy of the taxpayer.   He did not give a monkey's - typical of the legal profession.

Along with my parents, I put more money into the marital home than Charlie Gordon. Yet, he and his second family - who had nothing before they meet him and saw him coming with his money and mine - walked away with everything. It was spend, spend, spend. He bought them the council house, cars, holidays - Disney Land 'Florida' ...... He was spending MY money.  It was like winning the lottery for them.

Every JUDGE in this country should be made to read my divorce horror story. And it should be made compulsory reading for every woman going through a divorce. So, she can be eternally grateful for what she DID GET..

I was dealt a triple whammy: A vengeful ex-husband in league with his solicitor Andrew Garside: A treacherous daughter Catherine Gordon - I will never forget that terrible day in Nov. 1995, when my youngest daughter phoned from Amble to tell me about my house. Everything stood still. I could not  take it in, still can't:  A bent, psychopathic Judge Dredd in league with bent solicitor Hylton Young who is now retired and living in Amble with his antiques and blood money. You never recover from trauma, you just learn to live with it.

So I have to be unique, the only woman in existence, who, after twelve years of marriage, two children and building the matrimonial home, came away from her divorce with literally nothing. Not even some of my own possession with a court order, when I went back to the Salt Pans in 1980 to collect them, Charlie Gordon had been drinking and turned violent towards me -  my nice, kind neighbour, Hilary Hewson, who is now living there permanently with her family since the utility upgrade, called the police - police Sgt. came down and said,''Take what you have got and go.''? So much for the court order, a useless piece of paper. My case is a searing indictment of the legal system and police force in this country - flawed and rotten and corrupt.

My solicitor was Cheryl Lewis, sometime later, she was murdered on holiday in Egypt - poisoned with cyanide by her boyfriend. The case was known as Death on the Nile.   Friends asked me if I had done it -  I would have gone for Judge Dredd, then Catherine Gordon.











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